Years ago I had my charts read. The very ethereal woman looked at me with her head half tilted as she said; “You have been and will continue to be ostracized and shunned from your community for speaking things that others are not ready or willing to hear.” I forgot most of what she said, but I never forgot that. I am holding gratitude in one hand for the Mom Congress, and disappointment in the other hand, for what I experienced at the event.  Part of that lands on me, and part of that lands on something much larger than the event itself, is what I am sorting out.

For weeks, as some of you know,  I was looking forward to the Mom Congress that I was invited to attend in Washington, DC at Georgetown University. I was honored to represent my state as the “delegate from Maine.” I was pumped up about being a special guest at a town hall with President Obama’s Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan when he unveiled his 270 million dollar federal initiative to increase parental involvement in education.

As I looked over the jam packed agenda including heralded figures in education like Lily Eskelsen, the Vice President of the National Education Association, and panels covering topics from childhood obesity, to technology in the classroom, I knew I would be blown away. What I was most excited about was the opportunity to meet the other fifty powerhouse mothers (one from every sate and Washington DC) who were chosen to represent their states because they had a passion for education, and being a mother in common. How could the event be anything but magical? Finally the weekend arrived, and with all my ducks in a row, I said goodbye to my children for three days. This was going to be eventful for everyone.

When the pilot aborted our landing seconds from touching ground in Philly, I should have known something larger was at play. Sure my suitcase being lost, and having to go to the welcoming reception in my travel clothes surrounded by elegant formal wear was a little unnerving. (It was two moms of hue who offered their spare suits to me for tomorrow if mine never arrived.) What was really the hard part for me, was how disconnected I began feeling when the congress itself did not seem to be about connecting or celebrating, or drawing upon the shared hard work of the women who were attending. Instead it seemed to me to be about the people invited to regale us with their knowledge, or in the case of our sponsors, their products too. As a result, I was having a hard time landing too.

The comments of Byron Garrett, (the first African American) CEO of the National PTA, did reach out to uplift and collectively imbue all the women there with even more intention then we woke with that morning. (The fact that he started by acknowledging the single mother, and how capable she is not only of parenting, but of parenting beautifully put me in the palm of his ministerial hands from the get go.) He challenged us to not invite parents to schools alone, but to invite ourselves into all of the children’s communities for potlucks, and conversation with childcare included. That said to me, oh he gets it.  I wanted to meet his mother, after he finished speaking, and ask her to share her parenting tips with me. I was revived temporarily.

At the dinner that night, after two keynotes, one town hall, and six panel discussions we were all saturated and then some. I wanted to get up on top of my table and scream; “Does anyone else here feel like they have no idea why they were invited if no one has even asked them their name?”  Instead, I shared my frustration until another delegate heartedly agreed. From our conversation, came an idea. Let’s introduce ourselves now, and ask everyone here, staff of the host magazine included, who they are, and what their passion is. Ninety minutes later, and the room was filled with advocates, truth speakers, shakers, and heros alike. You could feel a collective exhaling into something great. Leave it to the delegates to turn things around.

I had an expectation that was not met, and I did not handle that well. I had an expectation that the attendees there would be handled in a way that would encourage dialogue, connection and relationship. I had an expectation that we would have break out sessions, opportunities to work together, and share experiences. I had an expectation that it was going to run the way I would have done it. But, I am not a major parenting magazine network, or the current administration. I didn’t want to sell anything but my own message that we had a lot of work to do to bring some of the more disenfranchised members of the community to the proverbial  table of their children’s education. And, I wanted to have that discussion with women who had figured it out where they lived.

And, now I realize that when I do not have my needs/expectations met on such a large scale I have very little resiliency to adjust and handle what I do have in front of me. I saw other women thriving, connecting and building relationship. How could they be so happy, and I be so frustrated with things being other than I had hoped? Had I failed? If it wasn’t the failing of the conference, was it my failing that was cause for my dis-ease? Hadn’t parenting taught me better than that?

I do not have any big answers to this one folks, but I’d love to hear how you cope when you’re expectations are not met on a grand scale. How can we create events that meet the needs of all the participants even when there is something to sell?  When is creating something bigger then what we came to see, going to be the new paradigm we come to expect?

2 thoughts on “Congressional reflections

  1. This piece speaks to me in a very big way. I think what you observed, what disappointed you and what you did (did I get that right, you and another woman shifted things and got everyone in the room to introduce themselves??–is that right?!) are really important. I think you were right in your observation– that getting all those women/moms together to be talked at is something of a waste, compared to what could happen with everyone connecting and thinking together.

    So your question at the end, how to be more resiliant, how to adjust when your expectations aren’t met is an important one–so that you can keep going, and go to many places and do many things with people like-minded and not so like-minded. But I think you might be missing an important question– perhaps a more important question, which is how can we all do much more of what you did do– that is when disconnection rules, when people aren’t using the opportunity to connect, to learn from each other, to give each other a turn to speak and to show who they are– how can we use every opportunity to make an event go better– how can we trust what we know enough and act on what we know? That, I think, is the real question– and you did it when you and the other delegate got everyone talking.

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